By Donna Oh, Kylie Daguio, Nicole Benavides, Adria Guajardo Allen, Shana Zadron.

As soon as the world greeted the turn of the decade, it seemed that the new year was determined to make its mark in recent history. Like checking off a crisis to-do list, 2020 has sacked and pillaged through each month so far with a “hot-spot” item:

  • January was riddled with international and national uncertainties.
  • February tried to burn Australia down.

And now, by the end of the 3rd month, we are all (hopefully) sitting at home, at least 6 feet away from other humans and with a bottle of hand-sanitizer loaded and ready. Maybe some toilet paper too, if you were lucky. So while we connect wirelessly through screens and speakers, and leave our doors firmly shut to the outside world, 2020 can successfully check off its third item on the list:

  • March: the COVID-19 Pandemic

The most recent use of the word “pandemic” was in 2009, when a known influenza virus (the H1N1) mutated into a novel and highly virulent form (LiveScience). Dubbed the “Swine Flu” for its endemic origins in pigs, this virus infected more than 1.4 billion people around the world in the course of the year before the end of the pandemic was declared in 2010 (CDC).

Global COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University; continuing real-time case updates (retrieved on 26 March 2020). Note: Johns Hopkins University is the post-doctoral alma mater of our PI and mentor Dr.Rivera-Mariani.

Ten years later, we are presently and aggressively faced with a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 that can lead to acute severe respiratory illnesses (officially named COVID-19). This virus has seen an unprecedented rate of transmission among people, with more than 500,000 confirmed cases in 175 countries – and climbing. Government and healthcare agencies in almost all countries have responded to this extraordinary circumstance by levying public mandates and, in some countries, laws that dictate the one underlying word we are by now all familiar with: Quarantine.

But why?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (see image on the left), which is transmitted person-to-person or after contact with contaminated surfaces; nevertheless, a recent study highlighted its aerosol viability (i.e. up to three hours). It ranges from being asymptomatic to complications as intense as organ failure leading to death. If this virus spreads from human contact, who wouldn’t want to be quarantined? Well, for those of you doubting these isolation tactics, here are some facts from the World Health Organization:

Wash Your Hands. If you were not already practicing this, you may have bigger problems at stake. Washing hands with soap and water kills any bacteria or virus that you may have picked up. Most viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2, contain a protective, yet weak, viral envelope that is made of fat, and aids in the spreading of the virus: this holds true to viruses that can cause respiratory diseases and spread perso-to-person or following contact with contaminated surfaces. Inside this fatty envelope are its protein and genetic code. Viruses cannot survive alone and need a host. Due to the acidity of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, the virus cannot puncture it; instead, it sticks to the surface. Soap’s chemical structure is attracted to the coronavirus’s fatty envelope, causing it to detach from the skin and break off into small viral pieces. The soap molecules continue to trap these small viral pieces, making it easier for water to come in and wash it away. Hand sanitizer is handy (comprised of at least 60% alcohol), but nothing beats a good ole’ hand wash.
Social Distancing. How does it feel when someone is coughing and sneezing in your personal space? Not too hot. Now imagine someone doing that during this pandemic. Constantly staying at least 6 feet apart may seem lonely, but trust the professionals. When an individual sneezes or coughs, miniscule respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth become airborne. If you are not practicing safe social distancing, you can breathe in these virus-containing droplets. Social distancing and being quarantined is not just to protect yourself; it is to help manage and control the spread that could more severely harm older populations and individuals with underlying medical concerns. When you are going stir-crazy, confined within the four walls of your living quarters, think of all the grandparents with immune systems not as strong as yours.
History Repeats Itself. The National Academy of Medicine recently hosted a conference-Responding to COVID-19: A Science-Based Approach, terming quarantine a Non-pharmaceutical Intervention beneficial for the containment and mitigation of COVID-19. According to research on the influenza pandemics, experts are able to predict the impact of quarantine on the transmission of the virus. Not only does it reduce the risk of an outbreak to the public health, but it buys time for sciensits and healthcare professionals to develop a treatment or vaccine. In the meantime, keep calm and hold tight (APHP).

Still, there are caveats.

There’s no doubting the science behind social distancing; however, it has its downfalls. Here are topics that policymakers ponder about: (1) the danger of quarantine in an abusive home, (2) the increased risk associated with homelessness, (3) the mental health issues pertinent to self-isolation, (4) the access to food to children in low socioeconomic households, and (5) the negative effects on the economy (APHP).

It’s hard to believe a few short months ago there was a talk about record gains in the stock market. Like many major disruptive events, this crisis is sure to place great strain on the economy. Investors' panic has caused massive losses across the entire stock market, one of countless factors that led to drastic losses in stock price. This among many other factors places a great strain on the US economy.

But people are complying.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus Barren streets and empty skyscrapers show the overwhelming obedience in favor of self-isolation. Quaran-times has become an electronic playground for many, streaming movie after movie (and TV series) while endlessly browsing the internet. Hell, even worklife is home-based. Life in cyberspace is being spoiled with the stench of monotony, and for the time being, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is still small and far.

When it comes to quarantine, how long is too long? Perhaps in the eyes of the general public the caveats to social distancing will negate its seemingly short-term pros. Nonetheless, before levying the promotion on self-isolation, policymakers must consider a secondary outbreak (APHP). But, more importantly, beyond the decisions of suits and ties behind their table-top fortresses, it comes down to the people to act on informed decisions to mitigate the worst of the damage. It might be too late to hit the e-break on 2020’s vengeance, but steering the car through less turbulent roads ahead may make all the difference. Timing is everything – at a time like this, it’s important to remain proactive and stay safe.

Authors of this Blog

Donna Oh

Donna Oh. Donna hails from Anchorage, Alaska, and is a graduate student in the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University. She is also a graduate research assistant and, together with Nicole Benavides, one of the lab leaders in the Respiratory and Immunology Project and Laboratory research team (RIPLRT). She aspires to become a physician (with potential to become a section director). Her interest in scientific research is mainly rooted in her passion to gaining knowledge about the biochemical pathways involved in human physiological and pathogenic processes. Click here to learn more about Donna!

Kylie Daguio

Kylie Daguio. Kylie earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a concentration in pre-med at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and is also a student in the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University. She is also a graduate research assistant in the RIPLRT, and according to her peers one of the best pipetters in the team! Her enthusiasm for research aligns with her passion for healthcare, which is evidenced by her experiences as a Medical Scribe in oncology and hematology departments. Among her career goals include becoming a physician and join the efforts to address health disparities. Click here to learn more about Kylie!

Nicole Benavides

Nicole Benavides. Nicole is also student in the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University and, as mentioned in Donna's description, a lab leader in the RIPLRT. Originally from Fairfax, Virginia and a graduate from the University of Florida (B.S in Health Education), she aspires to become an orthopedic: we may see Nicole in the Olympics. She is the first in her Latin family to pursue a professional career in healthcare. Click here to learn more about Nicole!

Adria Guajardo Allen

Adria Guajardo-Allen. Adria is from Dallas, TX (could she be a Cowboy's fan?) and is a student in the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University a graduate research assistant in the RIPLRT. Adria obtained her B.S. in Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington, and her aspirations include becoming a Physician Assistant to contribute to the quality of life of our population. Click here to learn more about Adria!

Shana Zadron

Shana Zadron. Shana, a first generation student of Afghan descent, is a graduate from the University of Colorado, Denver (B.S. in Biology and minor in Psychology). She is a student in the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University and is one of the College of Biomedical Sciences' student ambassador. A graduate research assistant in the RIPLRT, her ambition for research originated from her undergraduate studies. She also aspires to becoming a physician to contribute to the well-being of our nation. Click here to learn more about Shana!